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Creative writing alumna wins Wellcome Book Prize 2016

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan book praised for offering “new insights insights into the relationship between the body and the mind”

A creative writing alumna has been awarded the prestigious Wellcome Book Prize for her 2015 nonfiction work exploring psychosomatic illness.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan, who completed an MA Creative Writing in November 2015, was announced this week as the winner of the annual award which recognises excellence in new works of fiction or nonfiction that are based around some aspect of medicine, health or illness.

“It's All in Your Head: True Stories of Imaginary Illness” is Dr O’Sullivan’s first book. It explores her experiences as a neurology consultant and the encounters she has had with patients who have debilitating but medically unexplained illnesses. In drawing on a mixture of extreme case studies – from paralysis, seizures and blindness – and more everyday problems such as tiredness and pain, Dr O’Sullivan concludes that “psychosomatic disorders are physical symptoms that mask emotional distress”.

Judges of the annual award praised the book for offering “new insights into the relationship between the body and the mind”.

Dr O’Sullivan said: “I am absolutely thrilled that my book has been honoured with this award. It feels like a great mark of respect for the people I write about, many of whom suffer without recognition or help.

“My experience of Birkbeck is one I will never forget. I was exposed to ways of thinking about reading and writing that I had never thought about before. There is no doubt that I can view my own writing more critically now, but without a sense that my individuality or creativity has been stymied.”

Julia Bell, course director of the Birkbeck Creative Writing MA said: ‘We are delighted for Suzanne – it’s a well-deserved success – she’s a brilliant storyteller, both of her work life and in fiction. I look forward to many more prizewinning books to come.”

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan has signed her next book deal with Chatto and Windus. Brainstorm, a non-fiction exploration of the brain, will come out in January 2018.

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